- Betrayal of the Other
On this Independence anniversary, I am sharing the lament of a liberal Indian Muslim, who is opposed to the Partition of the Subcontinent because he believes that the Hindus and the Muslims constitute one Indian nation. For him, the marker of identity is not religion but a composite culture rooted in the centuries old syncretic tradition of coexistence and mutual accommodation between the two communities. After living for about seven decades in secular independent India, five of which were spent in observing politics and society from close quarters as a journalist in the leading English dailies, Saeed Naqvi has finally opened his heart in the captivating autobiographical account “Being the Other.”
Secular Muslims like him hoped to be treated as equal citizens but the Indian “politicians, officials and a largely Hindu police force would work progressively against them, decade after decade…” forcing them to a life of hypocrites living in suffocating silence not daring to vent grievances publicly. The cardinal rule of this hypocritical existence is “Say what you liked at home but be careful what you say to ‘Mishraji’ and ‘Guptaji’.” The tradition of naming and shaming the Muslims as the ‘Other’ started immediately after Partition by none other than the Home Minister and ‘Iron Man’ of Congress, Sardar Patel. When the killings of the Muslims at the hands of the Hindus and the Sikhs in Delhi raised questions about the competence and partisanship of Patel, he defended by saying that “If the Hindus and the Sikhs had not taken the first offensive, the Muslims would have destroyed them” and to prove how “well-armed” the Muslims of the capital were, he presented to the Cabinet the arms recovered from the Muslims which included dozens of rusted kitchen knives, pocket knives, spikes and cast iron water pipes that amused Lord Mountbatten who remarked, “If they had really expected to take Delhi with pen knives then they had an incredible sense of military strategy.” Since then, hardly a day has passed when the patriotism of the Indian Muslims to “Mother India” has not been questioned, impelling them to act as “super patriots” to prove their patriotic credentials.
Ironically, the same Kaifi Aazmi had to rush to save the life of another liberal Muslim poet — his friend and mentor — Ali Sardar Jafri, whose residence was threatened by arsonists during the 1993 Bombay massacres
The appointments of a few hand-picked Muslims to public offices in India is nothing more than a “secular pretense” to the world. A pertinent example in this regard was the devaluation of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. As long as a “Muslim face” of the Congress was required in negotiations with the Muslim League and the British, Azad was kept as the president of the Party for six years but the moment the Congress accepted the Partition Plan, he became a useless entity. This duplicity has been the hallmark of all Hindu leaders including Gandhi. There is a startling letter from the ‘Mahatma’ directing Jawaharlal Nehru not to take Azad in his Cabinet: “I did not say anything yesterday about the Maulana Sahib. But my objection stands. His retiring from the Cabinet should not affect our connection with him….Sardar [Patel] is decidedly against his membership in the Cabinet and so is Rajkumari….It should not be difficult to name another Muslim for the Cabinet.” So, all that the Hindus really need is the token presence of any hand-picked Muslim to keep up the “secular pretense.”
Politics aside, the Hindu duplicity has also been quite visible in the cultural life. Urdu language and the culture associated with it have been the prime targets. Hindus’ opposition to Urdu is a known fact. Once Hindi was declared as the official language, Urdu was deliberately made to die an unnatural death in liberated India, however, off and on, token association was shown. To show such token affection, when these opponents of Urdu celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the classical Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Ghalib, the popular poet Sahir Ludhianvi just could not hold his anger towards the Congress government.
Sau saal say jo turbat
Chadar ko tarasti thi
Aaj uspe aqeedat ke phoolon ki numaish hai
Urdu kay taalluq say yeh bhed nahi khulta
Yeh jashan, yeh hungama, khidmat hai ki saazish hai
(For a hundred years there was no cover on the grave which
Today is loaded with flowers of adoration,
But from Urdu’s point of view, I am intrigued,
Are these celebrations of sincerity or a trick for Muslim votes?)
Jin ahle siyasat ne ek zinda zaban kuchli
Un ahle siyasat ko barbadi ka ghum kyon hai?
Ghalib jisse kehte hain, Urdu ka hi shair tha
Urdu pe sitam dha ker, Ghalib pe karam kyon hai?
(Politicians who crushed a language,
Why are they distraught at the death of that language?
Ghalib after all, was a poet of Urdu.
Having killed his language, why
this celebration of his anniversary?)
Nonetheless, the liberal Indian Muslims like Kaifi Aazmi continued to sing paean of Hindu-Muslim unity through optimistic poetry such as:
Naye Hindustan mein hum nayi Jannat basayenge
Wafoore justjoo mein kaise apne kaise begaane
Alag ho kar rahenge muttahid tasbih ke daaney
(We shall make a paradise out of our new India
There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’
When we are in a common struggle
Like rosary beads, we shall be together)
Ironically, the same Kaifi Aazmi had to rush to save the life of another liberal Muslim poet — his friend and mentor — Ali Sardar Jafri, whose residence was threatened by arsonists during the 1993 Bombay massacres. The dead poet Wali Gujarati known as the “Chaucer of Urdu” was not that lucky because the mob destroyed his grave during the riots in Gujarat under Narendra Modi’s watch. Ali Sardar Jafri was a believer in Indian nationalism and Wali Gujarati had died well before the birth of any type of modern nationalism in India. Why were they attacked? The underlying factor was their Muslim identity! When even the dead Muslims are not safe in their graves, one can assume what the living Muslims should expect? According to the Rajindar Sachar Committee’s Report, the condition of the Indian Muslims is worse than the economically weakest Dalit communities. The misery of the Indian Muslims has aggravated after 9/11 because every terror atrocity is blamed on them. More than anyone, it is the Indian media and the security agencies that are responsible for their vilification despite the fact “that nearly 90 percent of those [Muslims] held for suspected terrorist activity are never charged or convicted.” Consequently, even the liberals like Saeed Naqvi, now, feel betrayed, disappointed and disillusioned by this unending systematic ‘Othering’ of the Muslims in ‘secular’ India.